Verstappen beats Perez to pole for 2023 opener in Bahrain GP qualifying thriller
Max Verstappen claimed pole position for the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix during an intense, hotly contested qualifying session under the Sakhir lights on Saturday night, beating Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez to top spot.
Verstappen pumped in a time of 1m 29.897s on his first Q3 run before improving to a 1m 29.708s the next time around, eclipsing Perez by 0.138s and netting a 21st career pole position in the process.
Ferrari locked out the second row of the grid, with Charles Leclerc ahead of Carlos Sainz despite the Monegasque not completing a second run in the pole position shootout – instead saving a set of tyres for race day.
Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin’s charge continued with a strong run to fifth, slotting ahead of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, as Mercedes found themselves unable to join in the fight for pole.
After missing pre-season testing due to wrist injuries sustained in a training accident, Lance Stroll battled his way eighth, in front of Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and impressive F1 returnee Nico Hulkenberg (Haas).
FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 2023
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:29.708|
|2 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||1:29.846|
|3 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:30.000|
|4 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:30.154|
|5 Fernando Alonso ALO Aston Martin||1:30.336|
Lando Norris missed a Q3 spot by a couple of tenths as McLaren continued to recover from a tricky pre-season, putting his MCL60 11th on the grid, ahead of Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.
Yuki Tsunoda was the lead AlphaTauri driver in 14th position, with Alex Albon getting his Williams into Q2 – albeit abandoning his sole flying lap and therefore ending the second phase without a time.
F1 rookie Logan Sargeant almost joined team mate Albon in Q2 at the first time of asking, setting an identical time to 15th-placed Norris towards the end of Q1, but the American dropped out due to his time being posted later.
Sargeant still did enough to put his Williams a respectable 16th on the grid, in front of Kevin Magnussen – who could not live with the pace of high-flying team mate Hulkenberg – and fellow 2023 newcomers Oscar Piastri and Nyck de Vries.
A big shock in Q1 saw Pierre Gasly eliminated in P20 during his first qualifying session with new team Alpine, meaning the Frenchman will line up at the very back of the grid on Sunday – Gasly having had a lap time deleted.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Ferrari lead the way despite early drama
After a busy winter of developments, an intriguing pre-season test and an even more fascinating first day of practice, the time for pecking order predictions stopped as the sun set and the floodlights illuminated the Sakhir circuit on Saturday night.
Ferrari were quick to send their drivers out on medium tyres, only for Leclerc to suffer a huge lock-up into Turn 1 as parts of his car – later confirmed to be from the wheel front-right wheel brow – flew off, signalling an early red flag as debris sat on the circuit.
When the action resumed, it was Sainz who rose to the top of the timesheets by clocking a 1m 30.993s amid a frantic sequence of laps, with Russell a surprise second, Leclerc up in third and practice pace-setter Alonso fourth – the Red Bulls only P5 and P6.
Stroll was under pressure for the second runs – having lost an early time due to exceeding track limits – but the Canadian and his recovering wrists ultimately cruised through to Q2 in fifth, as the top four positions remained unchanged.
Hulkenberg popped up to sixth with a late improvement, displacing Verstappen’s Red Bull, while Tsunoda and Albon impressively put their AlphaTauri and Williams machines ahead of the other RB19 piloted by Perez.
Alfa Romeo drivers Bottas and Zhou progressed to Q2 in 11th and 14th respectively, sandwiching Alpine’s Ocon and Mercedes’ Hamilton, with Norris the final man to jump over the first qualifying hurdle in P15.
All three of F1’s rookies dropped out in Q1: Sargeant falling agonisingly short of a Q2 spot in 16th, Piastri placing 18th and De Vries winding up 19th. Magnussen and Gasly – the latter caught out by track limits – endured tricky sessions en route to P17 and P20 respectively.
Knocked out: Sargeant, Magnussen, Piastri, De Vries, Gasly
Q2 – Red Bull begin to show their hand
Red Bull appeared to turn up the wick when the action got back under way for Q2 –Verstappen storming to P1 with a 1m 30.503s on his first flyer, putting him 0.243s clear of team mate Perez and a further chunk clear of the chasing pack.
However, the second sequence of runs brought another extremely busy spell and ended with Leclerc leading the way on a 1m 30.282s, some two-tenths quicker than the initial benchmark posted by Verstappen.
Mercedes stayed in the mix as Russell and Hamilton slotted into respective P3 and P4 positions, followed by the other Ferrari of Sainz, the green Aston Martin machine of Alonso and Perez’s Red Bull.
Hulkenberg continued to catch the eye on his F1 comeback with a lap good enough for eighth, as Ocon and Stroll secured the final Q3 spots – the latter earning cheers from the Aston Martin garage for his efforts.
Norris just missed the cut in 11th, as the Alfa Romeos of Bottas and Zhou, Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri and Albon’s Williams joined him in the drop zone – Albon going off track at the Turn 5/6/7 esses and backing out of his only Q2 lap.
Knocked out: Norris, Bottas, Zhou, Tsunoda, Albon
Q3 – Verstappen puts both hands on pole position
Building on his Q2 showing, Verstappen delivered a rapid 1m 29.897s in the early minutes of Q3 to slot ahead of Leclerc, Perez and Sainz – this group all having two sets of soft tyres at their disposal.
Alonso was one driver who only had one set of softs to play with and used his single lap to provisionally go fourth, as attentions then turned to the second runs from the aforementioned front-running group.
Before this unfolded, cameras cut to Leclerc hopping out of his Ferrari, sparking concerns of reliability issues, but last year’s championship runner-up would confirm post-qualifying that he and the team opted to bank some fresh tyres for race day.
Back on track, Verstappen clocked a blistering 1m 29.708s to strengthen his grip on pole, with Perez also improving to finish 0.138s adrift, followed by Ferrari pair Leclerc and Sainz.
Alonso settled for fifth in what still represented a stellar result for himself and Aston Martin, in front of Russell and Hamilton’s Mercedes cars, team mate Stroll, Ocon and Hulkenberg, who had his only Q3 time chalked off for exceeding track limits.
“I think it’s been a bit of a tough start to the weekend, yesterday and today, not finding my rhythm. Luckily in qualifying, I think we managed to put the best pieces together,” said pole-sitter Verstappen.
“Of course, I’m very happy to be on pole, but for the whole team, coming off last year and again having such as strong car, with Checo up there as well, it’s amazing. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
“I was actually positively surprised being on pole, after the struggles I had in practice. That is positive and normally our race car is better, so let’s see.”
The 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix is set to begin at 1800 local time on Sunday. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can catch the action from the Bahrain International Circuit.